10 CASA Participants Graduate from the Los Angeles Program
Today, a graduation ceremony was held at the California Central District’s United States Courthouse in Los Angeles for 10 people who successfully completed the Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Program. The event was held in the ceremonial courtroom and presided over by Judges Dolly Gee and Andre Briotte, U.S. District Judges. Also in attendance were Hon. Paul Abrams, U.S. Magistrate Judge, and Hon. Virginia Phillips, Chief U.S. District Judge. Friends and family attended the graduation ceremony. Staff from the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Central District of California attended the graduation, led by Christopher Dybwad, Raul Ayala, Pedro Castillo, Nadine Hettle, Raven Barrow, Joyce Delaney, and Mary Veral. CASA team members from the the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Pretrial Services Agency were also in attendance.
During the graduation ceremony, Judge Gee addressed the audience.
This program is the first of its kind anywhere in the federal system. . . . Our CASA participants are the reason why our CASA program has been emulated by other districts around the country. . . . The CASA program is not easy to complete. It is an intensive period of supervision . . . where they are required to maintain at least 40 hours of productive activity every week; they are required to do homework assignments; they are required to maintain their sobriety; they are required to be honest at all times. And I’m proud to say that these graduates have met these requirements and, therefore, are ready to graduate. So, as you can see, this is no ordinary graduation. This is not a graduation where they’re going to walk away with a degree or a diploma. They have earned – and are going to walk away with – their freedom.
Hon. Virginia Phillips, a former CASA judge, welcomed the CASA graduates.
Just the selection to get into CASA is huge. Then to graduate and overcome all the obstacles, do the community service, stay clean, all of that, as you know, not everybody accomplishes that. So I can’t tell you strongly enough from the bottom of my heart, congratulations to all of you! And congratulations and thank you to all the family members and friends because people don’t make it through this program on their own. They need the support of those who are here today. . . .Today marks the end of your participation in CASA but it’s also the beginning. It’s the beginning of your new life to go out there and to put in effect the lessons that you’ve learned in CASA through all the help and support, to help other people who may be facing the struggles that you all face. We have great faith in your ability to make good on the commitment that you’ve made . . .that you will continue to put those principles and accomplishments into effect.
One of the graduating CASA participants spoke to the court.
CASA was a gift to me that I was not going to take for granted. It was something that I said I have to take it and run. It’s a big ol’ pot of gold and I’m not giving it away. And I did that since the first day I got here. . . . I knew I had made a lot of mistakes. During those mistakes, I lost my children to the court system. I ended up homeless, and I had nothing but my drug addiction. . . . I knew I had to do something in order to get my kids back, in order to get my life back, and in order to get my freedom back. And I was able to do that only through CASA. . . . CASA, you guys are awesome, you guys do a great thing, and I will be a living proof by sharing my story day by day, family by family. And as long as I can touch one family, that to me is enough. . . . It hasn’t been easy to go through CASA. . . . I was determined to make it. I was determined to be a success. I was determined to continue on with my life. And I just want to say how thankful I am for programs like this. You know, because not all criminals and drug addicts are bad people. We make wrong choices. Very wrong choices . . . but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome that with the proper mental health services and with the proper drug program.
Check out the photo gallery of the graduation ceremony.